Life Homes

Friday 29 August 2014

Space Craft

Mark Keenan

Published 19/04/2014 | 02:30

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The impressive Casey House. Photo: Enda Cavanagh.
An interior view of the house - which features plenty of open spaces.
Casey House

HIRE a talented architectural practice to tweak your home and you might end up with more than you bargained for.

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A couple from Cork, who are both easing down from healthcare careers decided their 30 year old bungalow could do with a bit of refreshing but ended up demolishing it in favour of a 3,600 sq ft seaside extravaganza.

They called in PLM architects, a practice with a distinct international flavour, to refurbish the house and come up with a contemporary extension. They also wanted to solve the problem of visual access to the stunning sea views they'd been missing out on for decades by just one metre – on account of the house being built too low on its foundations.

"They'd say to visitors, "go up the field there and just take a look at that view,""says Luke Hickson, of PLM, who is from Sydney but a long time resident in Ireland. He came here for a friend's wedding and never went back.

"We had to find a way of lifting them up by a metre to get those amazing sea views. The more we looked at it and the more ideas that flew around, it became clear to them that reworking the bungalow wasn't going to achieve what they wanted. We'd be making a silk purse from a sow's ear. They decided to demolish the bungalow entirely and start all over again."

The completed house with its svelte lines and distinctive sculptural upwards sweep and curling roofline has garnered national attention. This month it was named as one of the five finalists for the Architectural Project of The Year at the Irish Building and Design Awards 2014.

This is a particular achievement or PLM because private homes don't usually get a look-in on this annual honours list which more usually applauds big civic and public buildings. This year PLM's Cork house was the only house alongside finalists that included mostly college campus buildings.

But the obstacles in getting this home designed and built were substantial and varied. The house sits on a slope and so the architects needed a blueprint to ensure the house could wear that gradient seamlessly.

"The biggest challenge and, as it turned out, the greatest expense, would be creating the platform the raise the property up by that one vital metre. We also had to allow for the most unusual local weather conditions which gave us two microclimates to deal with either side of the house. On the north side, the house receives a full and constant wind battering from the Atlantic – so here it would need to be consolidated and the outdoor spaces protected. To south side it is sheltered and calm and full of really pleasant sun traps, this allowed for a more open and flowing approach."

The clients had some of their own personal stipulations. "The site was full of mature trees which the clients had planted over the years to mark births and family events and we had to design the house as a sort of jigsaw piece which worked around those trees closest to the building."

The clients wanted the sea view in all of the main rooms and asked for a home that was open to the landscape and wasn't as insular as the previous bungalow – so plenty of big open plan spaces. He wanted an office that relished the vista and she wanted a good functional kitchen.

Among the most inspired additions here was the use of imported walnut planks for the downstairs floors, polished to a high gloss and fiery in their hue. In the main reception the same walnut planks were used as wall panelling and one inspired decision was to leave the wall planks unvarnished lending a more organic tone to the sheen underfoot.

Also the clients decided to go all out and let PLM supply much of the furniture.

They are tight lipped on the cost of the project, although the quality of build and the fittings, the requirement to raise the house and the size of the residence all mean that you probably wouldn't get much change from the price of a trophy abode in Dublin 6.

"West Cork seems to be becoming a sort of a magnet for architecture," says Hickson. "The area has a number of special one off contemporary homes. Ours were the best clients you can have, they knew what they wanted but saw values in our ideas too."

"Between us all we decided that we could be a bit sculptural here and there for the sake of it. Our lady client mentioned that she had been inspired by the ancient tombs in the area, particularly the dolmens which seemed to carry such a heavy weight yet also float so effortlessly."

"The uplift in the roof at the high end gives additional height and light to the room inside but it it's also a deliberate nod to the dolmens." There were more additions led by aesthetic and one of the more challenging problems was the stairs. "Rather than just close it in, we decided to flank it with irregular box platforms to one side which we designed to spill down irregularly at intervals rather like the pools in a stream or a river."

The dolmen like profile is definitely there albeit subtely chiselled. But from one angle to the side and front, does it look just a bit ... ever so slightly ... just a tad ...like an echo of the Sydney Opera House?"

"I'm saying nothing," says Hickson.

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